“do NOT look forward, however tempting…”

Long before I ever started swimming longer distances, I saw the videos of the ‘Lake Zürich Marathon Swim’. Not knowing I would ever be able to do something like that, I was still intrigued by not only the distance (26km), but also by the beauty of the lake and its surroundings, and the view of all those swimmers, each with their own little support-boat…

So after last years 21+km vidöstern-swim I decided to give the 26km Zürich-swim a go this year!
Luckily coach Jacomina would be in the neighbourhood (working and holidaying between Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Italy), and was willing to come to Zürich and row the lake while I swim… A few weeks before we do a 20km swim/kayak training, and after that my confidence is pretty good; although I still have to finetune the nutrition, the Zürich swim should be doable in about 10 hours, so that’s a nice goal to keep in the back of the mind!

The days before the swim are spend resting, cycling around the lake (it’s a long swim when cycling around the lake takes 3 hours!), and the occasional short swim to cool down, since it’s a pretty hot week… And then it’s time for the race-briefing… Not much news is being said, but there’s some navigational advice that might come in handy for Jacomina (since I’m just following the boat…). Not only there’s certain mountains to use whilst navigating, there’s also Tina Turners house as a landmark for a certain distance (although I forgot what distance that was exactly…).
Other than the official briefing, this is also the time to meet some fellow swimmers, and this gets me the most important information about this swim: one of the British swimmers who has swum here before warns me: “with 5km to go you can see the finish line, and it just doesn’t come closer. One tip: do NOT look forward!”. Hope I remember that tomorrow…

raceday
A point-to-point swim comes with its own logistical challenges… And although the race-organisers have a bus-service from the finish back to the start, we planned to have our own car at the finish; both to be flexible (and not having to wait for a bus, or to rush to get to the bus), but also to make sure that there’s room for the (inflatable) canoe… This meant that Jacomina drove the car to the finish the day before the race, and cycled back to the campsite (as always; good support at these crazy events is what makes it all possible!). So on race-morning we leave the campsite with ‘alternative transportation’…

05AM
It’s still dark, and we carry the canoe and all equipment (food, warm clothes) to the lake, and Jacomina leaves for the start… Meanwhile, I get on my bike and ride to the harbour, where we’ll meet again. It’s a nice and relaxed way to start the day; just being on the bike for a short while, enjoying the quiet sunrise, and feeling really happy to get to the start of this adventure!

At the harbour it’s pretty busy; here’s where all the boats gather, and the swimmers who have registered without their own boat first meet their captains. And to make all this as pleasant as possible, the race-organisers provided a table with coffee, tea and different breakfast options… Not that I’ll use that, since I’ve been following my own ‘pre-race-breakfast-protocol’, but it’s still a nice touch! I meet Jacomina at the breakfast table, and after a short coffee-break she gets back into the boat, and I leave for the start at the Lido about 500meters from the harbour…

Then the usual pre-race-routine (only to find that there’s ‘limited’ toilet-capacity at the Lido… So after a long wait there’s not too much time to get into the wetsuit…), and just in time I make it to the jetty. All the names of the swimmers are called, just to check if we’re all there, and then we’re allowed into the water.
The view is awesome; the sun is just up, the water is clear and flat, and there’s about a hundred boats in the distance, all waiting for their swimmers… To make sure it’s easy to find my own boat, we decided that I start at the far right, and Jacomina is wearing a bright shirt, so she’s easy recognisable from a distance. Luckily, since she’s in a kayak, she’s able to be quite close to the start, so I can see exactly where I have to go for the first few hundred meters…

…and we’re off…

…almost found my boat…

When everyone is in the water, a minute of silence follows (for ‘meditation’, and it’s actually pretty nice to hear all the pre-race chatter disappear), and then we’re off!

…a crowded first kilometer…

07.04AM
Before I know it I’m swimming next to Jacomina. It’s pretty busy; the field takes some time to spread out, and it’s not just swimmers, there’s also a lot of boats in the water! So all there is to do is trust my own boat… Sometimes I have the feeling that other boats are coming close, but I also see that Jacomina focuses on what’s happening around, and that all the captains and kayakers are waving to each-other, so everyone knows who’s where, and which swimmer is faster, so it’s actually not too stressful…

The first kilometers go by without any big adventures; every 1500 meters we stop for food (the plan is to do that throughout the swim), and I just find my easy-and-relaxed-ultra-pace… The views are amazing, the weather is perfect, and I’m having an awesome day!

Until…

…what a beautiful swim…

While the water seems nice and flat (no ‘short-but-choppy-waves’ as there would be when there’s a lot of wind), because it’s a nice day (sunny, and about 28ºC) it does mean that there’s a lot of boats on the lake, which create a bit of a ‘swell’, so the water just goes up and down slowly… I now remember why I don’t like sea-swimming (I do like it for the adventure, but usually after about 20minutes I get out again, since I get nauseous…).

After about 10km I start to get seasick…

…up…and down…and up…and down…

…big boats making little waves…

This is a problem; eating is problematic (I try, but it’s hard to get food in), and now it’s all about just ‘surviving’ the next 1500meters. When I’m swimming I can push the feeling away a bit, but as soon as I stop to eat I get lightheaded, and feel the urge to throw up (hoping that this will ‘reset’ my system I do try that, but apparently throwing up while floating in the water is a skill I’ve yet to master…).
Without proper nutrition swimming becomes harder as well; no food means no energy, and that means that the pace is dropping (although my garmin crashed after 9km (again…), so I’ve got no idea of the actual pace), and I’m starting to worry a bit… There’s actually a few moments (usually when swimming close to land, and seeing a point where it’s easy to climb up onto the shore) where I decide that I’m not going to finish, and that I’m going to quit… But at every 1500meter break I decide not to say this out loud, and just suck it up and try another 1500meters, and see how that goes…
(later, when talking to Jacomina about this she said: “well, I wasn’t going to let you quit anyway, since there was nothing wrong really…” And it’s true; although slow, I am still moving forward, but when you feel like s*#t it’s easy to have your mind trick you into thinking hat there’s a lot going wrong… So this is another big mental learning-experience that’s going to help me with the big adventures to come!)

From here on out the entire swim is a bit of a blur; there’s a lot of nice moments: interaction with other support-boats who saw me being sick and offering help is one of those things I love about ultra-events, the 14km-mark where we have to navigate the ferry that’s crossing (the trick is to just trust your own boat… and not freak out about a big ship coming closer…), and in between all the physical (and mental) challenges, I still try to enjoy some of the amazing views…

Not sure how, but I make it to the ‘only 5km to go’ point, and I remember the advice that was given: “do NOT look forward, however tempting”. From this point on I only look at the kayak next to me, and every kilometer seems to take forever… When we pass a small beach there’s a local swimmer who’s cheering very loudly, and he makes me smile, since now I realise (for the first time in many hours) that I will probably make it to the finish. Later, Jacomina tells me that the swimmer shouted “only 4 more km!”. Luckily I didn’t hear that, since ‘only 4km’ at that point felt like an almost impossible distance…
The pace has dropped, so the 1500meter stops become ‘30minute-stops’, since 1500meters just take too long. Jacomina forces me to eat whatever I can (still being sick I can’t eat my energy-bars, and, since I’m really stupid, I didn’t have a backup-nutrition plan… So Jacomina at some point offered me parts of her own lunch; a sandwich, a banana…) (did I mention how important an awesome crew is?). At these feedings I deliberately turn my back to the finish, to avoid accidentally seeing how far it still is, and I make it onto about 1200meters before the end when I first see the finish…

…and it’s still really, really far away…

…more big boats (and another try at some food…)

…26km done!…

I ask Jacomina what she thinks of the distance. 600meter? 700meters? My guesses are mainly hope (against better judgement), and Jacomina doesn’t answer, but just tells me; one more feeding stop, and then a final stop to put on your swimcap (the swimcap was mandatory at the start, at the 14km-point and at the finish, since it has your race-number on it, but on a hot day like today I didn’t wear it for most of the swim).
Now it’s tempting to look ahead every stroke, but I know it’ll still feel like forever… So I decide to only look after 300 strokes, and have a nice distraction counting to 300… When I look the finish doesn’t seem to be any closer, so another 300 to go… This process repeats a few times, but then I start to hear the finish…

I touch the land, climb up the stairs, and a lot of swimmers are cheering for me, although I don’t really register that. I feel sick, I’ve been swimming with an empty tank for a long time, and all I want to do is sit down…

…4th place in the wetsuit-division… (from 4 swimmers, but still! 🙂 )

It’s an emotional finish; you train hard to get that ‘perfect’ race, but in the end; when things don’t go as planned, and you still finish, against all expectations, that finish-line is actually a lot more valuable… So this is definitely one to remember!

It’s been an epic day out on the lake, my longest swim ever, and I’m just really, really happy with this finish… A big ‘thank you’ to Jacomina for crewing the day, since, as always, long-distance racing is a teamsport!

oh, and one of the things I learned: you can actually get tan-lines from a swim, as long as you swim long enough… And if you breath only on one side, you get sunburned on one side of the face…

32nd Sri Chinmoy Marathon-Schwimmen
Rapperswill-Jona – Zürich
26km
11’11’40

…proud of this one…

…reverse tanlines…

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